Laryngeal Cancer

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Treatment for cancer of the larynx, or voice box, will cause changes in the way your voice sounds. Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, can help.

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About Laryngeal Cancer

Your vocal folds are inside your larynx (pronounced lar- inx), or voice box. When you talk, air moves from your lungs through the vocal folds to your mouth. The vocal folds vibrate to produce sound. Cancer can form on your vocal folds or other parts of your larynx.

Signs of Laryngeal Cancer

Cancer may cause:

  • Hoarseness or voice changes
  • Problems swallowing
  • Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
  • A bad cough or chest infection
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Bad breath
  • Weight loss
  • An earache that lasts for a long time

Causes of Laryngeal Cancer

You increase your risk of laryngeal cancer if you:

  • Smoke or drink a lot
  • Have a poor diet
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have been exposed to chemicals and other toxins, like paint fumes or soot
  • Have acid reflux

Testing for Laryngeal Cancer

You should see your doctor if you have any of the problems listed above. Your doctor can feel your throat for lumps and look down your throat to see your larynx.

The doctor may take a sample of the tissue in your larynx, called a biopsy. Your doctor tests the tissue to see if it is cancer.

Treatments for Laryngeal Cancer

The type of treatment you get will depend on where the cancer is and how big it is. You may need radiation or chemotherapy. In some cases, you may need surgery to remove part or all of your larynx. This surgery is a laryngectomy. The surgeon will make a hole in your neck, called a stoma. You will breathe through this hole and may learn ways to use it to talk.

After surgery, you may still be able to produce voice. However, your voice will sound different because your voice box has changed. You may need special devices to help you talk.

Radiation and chemotherapy can cause problems with your voice, too. You may have a sore throat, dry mouth, mouth sores, and problems breathing. You may also have some trouble swallowing. Some of these side effects go away after treatment is over.

Speech Treatment

Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, play an important role both before and after surgery.

The SLP will talk to you about your larynx and how surgery will change it. You will learn more about what will happen after surgery and what communication options you have. You and your family can discuss your options and treatment plan with the SLP.

Right after surgery, you will not be able to talk. The SLP can give you paper and a pen or picture board to help you tell others what you need. As you heal, the SLP will work with you to find a new way to produce voice. There are three primary options:

Esophageal Speech. To do this, you take air in your mouth; trap it in your throat, and then let it back out. It is like what happens when you burp. As the air goes out your mouth, it makes the upper parts of your esophagus vibrate. Your esophagus is the tube that goes from your mouth to your stomach. This type of speech requires a lot of practice.

Artificial Larynx. You can use an electronic device that vibrates when turned on. You put the device against your neck or put a small tube in your mouth. Many people use this type of device first. You need to practice speaking clearly so others understand you. Your voice will sound mechanical.

Tracheoesophageal Puncture, or TEP. This is a long-term way to talk after a laryngectomy. It is often done during the surgery but can happen later. The surgeon makes a hole between your airway and your esophagus. A small valve goes into this hole. You breathe air in from the hole in your neck and cover the hole up. The air goes through the valve into the esophagus. The esophagus vibrates, and you use that to make sounds through your mouth. Your SLP will fit the valve, called a prosthesis, and show you how to care for it.

To find a speech-language pathologist near you, visit ProFind.

Other Resources

This list does not include every website on this topic. ASHA does not endorse the information on these sites.